Green and Hopeful / Monasticism and the Environment 
G3   May 27-31, 2008 / Abbey of Gethsemani
g3 index

Green and Hopeful / A Buddhist-Catholic Web Page on the Environment

“Green & Hopeful – Monasticism and the Environment” was the theme of this Buddhist/Catholic encounter. Forty Buddhist and Catholic men and women, gathered to reflect and share the environmental wisdom to be found in their teachings and practices.

Green & Hopeful
Gethsemani 3 : Monasticism and the Environment
A Buddhist/Catholic Monastic Gathering
May 27-31, 2008


Spread with garlands of vines,
Places delighting the mind,
Resounding with elephants,
Those rocky crags
Refresh me.
Theragatha 18: Mahakassapa

--- --- ---

The wolf and the lamb shall graze alike
And the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
None shall hurt or destroy
On all my holy mountain, says the Lord
Isaiah 65:25

We live in a time of environmental crisis and calamity, but also in a time when more and more people are coming together to respond to the suffering of the world. Our monastic interreligious dialogue has brought us to a new awareness of the social and spiritual relevance of ancient monastic traditions that have been sustained for millennia by Buddhist and Catholic communities.

Together we celebrate our common monastic values of reverence for the sacredness of all things, contemplation, humility, simplicity, compassion and generosity. These virtues contribute to a life of nonviolence, balance, and contentment with sufficiency.

We recognize greed and apathy as the poisons at the heart of ecological damage and unbridled materialism. Throughout the centuries, monastic life has inspired generous personal, social and spiritual effort for the good of others. We give and receive in the spirit of gratitude.

We acknowledge our complicity in damaging the environment and will make a sincere and sustained effort to reduce our negative impact on the planet. We are committed to take more mindful, universal responsibility for the way we use and manage the earth’s resources. We resolve to develop our hearts and minds in ways that will contribute to a sustainable and hopeful future for our planet. We renew our commitment to the sacredness of the earth, relating to it as a community, not a commodity.

May our love for all beings and this world sustain our efforts and may our earth be revitalized. This is our prayer and commitment.


*Conference Statement from the Monastic Men and Women of Gethsemani 3




Green Monasticism: A Buddhist-Catholic Response to an Environmental Calamity
Edited by Prof. Donald Mitchell, and William Skudlarek, O.S.B.


___ ___ ___

Forward to Green Monasticism - March, 2010

Why should monks, men and women, think they have something to say about caring for the environment? After all, haven’t they opted to flee the world?

In the West, at least, that common misunderstanding of monastic life comes from a mistaken interpretation of “fuga mundi,” a Latin expression frequently found in medieval monastic literature. Literally translated, those words do, in fact, mean “flight of [i.e., from] the world.” However, the word “world” in this context refers not to our natural surroundings, not even to human society absolutely speaking, but to all that is opposed to goodness and truth.

The history of monasticism—a particular way of living in the world that originated in India some three-thousand years ago and then appeared in the western world about a thousand years later—actually reveals that monks have generally appreciated, even celebrated, their natural environment and have been careful to avoid any action that would damage or disfigure it. Jain and Hindu insistence on not harming (ahimsa), Buddhist teaching on non-attachment (upadana), and Western monasticism’s emphasis on being rooted in one place (stabilitas loci), have insured, each in its own way, that monks treat the natural world with reverence and walk lightly through it. A rich tradition of preserving and beautifying their natural surroundings leads monks to believe their way of life can offer guidance and encouragement to a society that is finally coming to grips with the realization that it will have to treat the world differently if there is to be a world to pass on to future generations. The “Statement of Understanding and Commitment” at the beginning of this book is one expression of their desire to share their values and traditions with all who search for ways to live in harmony with the world they are a part of.

The essays that make up Green Monasticism are, for the most part, edited versions of talks given at a Buddhist/Catholic encounter on “Monasticism and the Environment” held at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky May 27-31, 2008. The conference was the third “Gethsemani Encounter” sponsored by Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID), an organization of North American Benedictines and Cistercians dedicated to fostering dialogue between Catholic monastics and spiritual practitioners of various religious traditions.

The first Gethsemani Encounter was held in 1996 and came about in response to a request made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He had taken part in a Buddhist/Catholic dialogue on “Kenosis and Emptiness” at the Parliament for the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1993. At its conclusion he suggested that there be a sequel in a monastic setting, where he could be “a monk among monks.” He expressed his hope that such a gathering could take place at Gethsemani Abbey, the monastery of Thomas Merton, whom he had met in India in 1968, a little more than a month before Merton’s accidental death in Bangkok on December 10.

The theme of the first Gethsemani Encounter was the spiritual life in the Buddhist and Christian monastic traditions. The meeting brought together an international group of about fifty leading Buddhist and Catholic practitioners and teachers of spirituality, both monastic and lay. The proceedings were published in The Gethsemani Encounter: A Dialogue on the Spiritual Life by Buddhist and Christian Monastics.

The second Gethsemani Encounter took place in 2002. At this gathering North American Buddhist and Christian practitioners who had been in dialogue with each other since the first Gethsemani Encounter addressed the subject of suffering and its transformation from their respective traditions. The proceedings were published under the title Transforming Suffering: Reflections on Finding Peace in Troubled Times.

As MID began planning a Buddhist/Christian dialogue on monasticism and the environment, it was obvious that Gethsemani would be the ideal place to meet. Not only had two major interreligious encounters already taken place in that setting, but Thomas Merton, the abbey’s most well-known monk, had been a pioneer in raising awareness about threats to our environment. He also was one of the first spiritual writers to call attention to the importance—indeed, the necessity—of interreligious dialogue, especially for monks, in addressing the world’s problems.

The opening presentation at Gethsemani III was therefore devoted to Merton’s analysis of the ecological catastrophe brought about by rapid industrialization and a growing inability to see nature as anything more than a resource to be exploited for economic advantage. In “Paradise Regained Re-lost” Fr. Ezekiel Lotz of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon argues that Merton’s attraction to monastic life, and in particular to the Trappist form of monastic life which in the 1940s was still founded on a self-sustaining agricultural model, sprang from his longing to regain paradise. Within a few years of his entrance into the monastic community at Gethsemani, however, a centuries’ old way of life changed almost overnight as the monastery modernized its farming methods and started marketing cheeses and fruitcakes in order to increase income and avert impending bankruptcy.

Merton was very critical of the rapid and—to his mind—uncritical way in which this transformation took place. The loss of the bucolic life he had hoped to find in the monastery, coupled with his growing awareness of the imminence of a global ecological catastrophe, brought him to the edge of despair. In one of his last working notebooks, Lotz found this marginal note: “The dreadful fact [is] that I was born into this world at the very moment when the whole thing came to a head; it is precisely in my lifetime that civilization has undergone this massive attack from within itself. My whole life is shaped by this. . . . It presses on the brain with a (near) darkness.”

Merton’s fear that the forces of destruction were too far advanced to be reversed only seemed to heighten his appreciation for the beauty of the world around him. His journal and other writings are filled with evocative descriptions of plants and animals, times and seasons. Just a few years before Gethsemani III a beautiful anthology of his writings on nature had appeared, making it possible to begin each session of the encounter with the reading of an appropriate text from Merton, followed by a time for reflection.

Buddhist practitioner Stephanie Kaza, a professor in the Environmental Program at the University of Vermont and a scholar of Buddhist environmental thought, opened the first full day of the encounter with a PowerPoint presentation on the magnitude, scope, and seriousness of the ecological catastrophe at our doorstep. Her presentation provided observable and scientifically verifiable evidence that the global environmental crisis is extremely grave and multi-faceted, involving species and habitat loss, increasingly unsustainable human populations, the diminishment of food, water and basic, non-renewable resources, the broadening and depleting environmental impact of new technologies, the rapid rise of consumerist economies in China, India, and Southeast Asia, threats to an oil-based global economy, and the widespread impacts of climate change.

One of the major reasons for this multi-faceted crisis is that seventy-four percent of the earth’s biocapacity is consumed by only five countries or regions of the world: India, China, Europe, Japan, and the United States. Using the metaphor of an “ecological footprint” to refer to the load imposed by a given population on nature (more specifically, to refer to the land area necessary to sustain current levels of consumption and waste discharge), Kaza then compared the footprints left by these five regions. As is clearly evident from the following figures, the United States, with only four and a half percent of the world’s population, uses and consumes a vastly disproportionate amount of the world’s resources:

Country Percentage of the world’s population Ecological footprint, global (acres) per person Percentage of biocapacity
India 17.1 1.9 7
China 19.4 3.9 18
Europe 10.8 11.6 19
Japan 1.8 11.8 5
United States 4.5 23.9 25

The reason for this extraordinarily high level of consumption in the United States is the epidemic of “affluenza,” an insatiable desire to use and possess more and more things. A few random indicators from 2002 show just how serious this disease is: “Our annual production of solid waste would fill a convoy of garbage trucks stretching halfway to the moon. We have twice as many shopping centers as high schools. . . . A CEO now earns 475 times as much as the average worker, a tenfold increase since 1980. Since 1950, we Americans have used up more resources than everyone who ever lived on earth before them.”

Kaza concluded her presentation by emphasizing the important role that faith-based organizations can play in responding to the ever increasing damage being done to the environment. What these religious bodies especially need to do is to raise consciousness and show, in word and deed, that care for the environment is an ethical and spiritual imperative. Their message will be all the more convincing if different religious groups can work together on environmental projects—land restoration or community gardens, for example—or share such physical resources as retreat centers or meeting areas.

Two presentations on the different philosophical/theological contexts in which Buddhist and Christian monasticism are rooted precede essays on monastic teachings on nature and monastic practices that guide our relationship with it. Ajahn Punnadhammo, a Theravadin monk of the Thai Forest tradition who lives at the Arrow River Forest Hermitage in Ontario, draws on the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination to address the causes and conditions behind the current climate crisis. He points out that dependent origination, not a deity, is the ultimate cause of the objects and events of the universe. Keeping in mind that the twelve stages of dependent origination are to be seen as a dynamic ongoing process, not as a linear movement through historical time, he traces the cause of climate change back to the desire for pleasures of the senses. Sense desire gives rise to consumerism, consumerism gives rise to commodity production, commodity production gives rise to resource extraction, resource extraction gives rise to greenhouse gas release, and greenhouse gas release gives rise to climate change. He proposes that the reason so many contemporary attempts to solve the crisis—by switching to biofuels, for example—are ineffective, or even counter-productive is that they do not address the root cause of the problem. It is precisely because the monastic virtues of non-greed, contentment, and reconnecting to the interdependent web of life do address the root cause of our ecological crisis that monasticism can make a valuable contribution to the contemporary Green movement.

In his presentation on the Catholic doctrine of creation, James Wiseman of Saint Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, DC, recognizes that a literal interpretation of anthropomorphic descriptions of God creating matter ex nihilo or fashioning human beings out of clay will elicit unbelief and even ridicule. The doctrine of creation attempts to respond to the “why” question of material and sentient existence, rather than the “how” question of the origin of the universe. There continue to be disputed questions in the Christian theology of creation. What is not disputed is that the material world is good, and that the only reason the universe continues to exist is because it is totally dependent on God’s ongoing creative love. This love, Wiseman suggests, generates a “fellowship of creation” with an interdependence of which we are a part. This calls for both loving care and selfless non-attachment for the good of the cosmos as basic to solving our ecological problems today.

These two presentations make clear that while Buddhists and Christians do indeed differ in the way they regard the origin of the world, both believe that mind (Christians might say “spirit”) is primary.7 The principal difference would seem to lie in the Christian doctrine of a personal God. Both Buddhism and Christianity have a sense of the transcendental, but Buddhism is very reluctant to give the transcendental the attributes of a person or the characteristics of a first cause. The difference in our understanding of the material world is at a high level, and quite narrow and subtle. But as Punnadhammo and Wiseman show, and subsequent essays will confirm, the difference in understanding is hardly—if at all—reflected in the practices by which monks over the centuries have expressed their care for the world.

The following two essays explain how the world and our life in it are treated by monastic rules. Rev. Heng Sure discuses the Patimokkha/Pratimoksha (in the Theravada traditions) and the Ten Major and Forty-eight Subsidiary Bodhisattva Precepts (in the Mahayana traditions). Sister Judith Sutera discusses The Rule of Benedict. Heng Sure, a Chan monk from the Berkeley Buddhist Center, admits that Buddhist monastic rules, like their Christian equivalents, contain relatively few specifically environmental references as we would define them today. The reason we can look to the rules for wise guidance on how to live skillfully on the planet is that they are grounded in the principles of no greed, no harm, and interdependence. They reflect, he says, “the wisdom of earth-based peoples who have always known that nature is one texture, one fabric,” and that “humanity is part of, and not apart from, kinship with all creatures . . . knit into and inextricably related to all other species.”

Sister Judith Sutera of Mount Saint Benedict in Atchison, Kansas also notes that Saint Benedict never mentions a specific love for nature or a concern for ecology, nor does he acknowledge the relationship between the monastic community and nature. Certain sections of his Rule, however, read like a description of the way people relate to the world around them when they believe that the kingdom of God is here and now. To demonstrate her point she contextualizes and expands on a couple of brief passages in the Rule: that all things “are to be treated as vessels of the altar” (chapter 31), and that “whoever fails to keep the things belonging to the monastery clean or treats them carelessly should be reproved” (chapter 32). Being mindful that all material things have been given as gift, using them properly, and then giving them back undamaged is the way people act when they believe the good news that the kingdom of God is not to be found in some far-off utopia, but is coming into being in our midst. Benedict’s statement about treating all things “as vessels of the altar” is addressed to the cellarer (manager) to show that in the most mundane work, the smallest of things—tools in this case—should be treated as sacred objects.

What then are the principal characteristics of the monastic way of relating to the environment? They can best be summed up as reverence, renunciation, gratitude, and generosity. Abbot Eko Little of Shasta Abbey in Mt. Shasta, California, draws on the deep and far reaching religious vision of Eihei Dogen (1200-1252 CE), the founder of the Soto Zen tradition in Japan, presenting him as a luminary of the monastic view of the environment as well as a prophet of a sacred and sustainable environmental culture. For Dogen it was not enough to say that all beings are endowed with Buddha Nature or have Buddha Nature: everyone is Buddha Nature. And not just every one; every thing is Buddha Nature. The only way, then, to practice the Buddha Nature of every thing and every one is to venerate, revere, cherish and take care of the world and everything in it. Echoing Sutera’s comments about Benedict’s rules for the cellarer to treat all things as sacred “vessels of the altar,” Abbot Little shows how Dogen’s rules for the Chief Cook contain guidance for this type of religious care even for a “cooking pot or grain of rice.”

For Father Charles Cummings from the Holy Trinity Trappist Monastery in Utah, simplicity is the key feature of the monastic way of life, a virtue that many contemporary monks find easier to hold as a spiritual ideal than to put into practice in their daily lives. Materially, simplicity is a life uncluttered by the superfluous and content with the necessary. Spiritually, simplicity is being centered on the one thing necessary, which Christians would identify as the love of God. A concern for simplicity has led monks to reject the superfluous and to discover that less, rather than more, is often more pleasing. But simplicity is a matter of justice, not just aesthetics. Many people—not only monks—choose to live simply so that others may simply live.

The formal presentations at Gethsemani III concluded with four talks on the actual environmental practices of Buddhist and Catholic monasteries in North America today. They begin with an examination of conscience (to use a Catholic expression) on unskillful practices (to use a Buddhist expression), either hidden or justified by ideology. They then conclude on a more positive note with two reports on some of the best practices to be found in North American monastic communities.

Unskillful practices in Buddhist communities, both monastic and lay, that negatively impact the environment are often the result of widespread misinterpretations of Buddhist teaching on equanimity, the relinquishing of desire, karma, and contentment that lead to apathy, indifference and complacency. Another cause is the failure to recognize the meaning and importance of the Buddha’s teaching on right and wise effort, which Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni of the Aranya Bodhi Awakening Forest Hermitage in Northern California describes as “the most widely unknown and most prevalently misunderstood of all of the basic Buddhist teachings . . . at least in America today, both in the public at large, as well as within the Buddhist community.” She shows how this is the case in certain situations, but also shows how skillful application of correctly understood teachings of the Buddha can give a strong witness today as to how to address contemporary environmental crises.

Within Catholic monasticism, as Father Hugh Feiss of Ascension Monastery in Jerome, Idaho, points out, bad theological arguments are sometimes used to justify bad practices. One example is the rationalization that since God gave us humans dominion over the earth, we are free to do what we want. The main justifications, however, tend to be cultural or psychological. Like the society they are still a part of, monks fall victim to the seduction of marketing and advertising, mistake good intentions for action, and make decisions based on what is most “practical.” As do many of their contemporaries, they too can respond to notices of impending ecological disaster with the psychological mechanisms of denial, repression, or projection. In order to turn toward the earth with reverence and care, confident that they will find its Ground and Goal, monks need to confess and lament their complicity in the illusions that have brought the world to the current crisis.

Ven. Thubten Semkye of Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington, and Sister Renée Branigan of Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton, North Dakota, offer specific examples of environmentally sound practices in North American Buddhist and Catholic monasteries, practices that reflect fundamental monastic values coupled with an awareness of the seriousness of the contemporary environmental crisis. Buddhist monastic communities are relatively new in the North America and often follow environmentally friendly practices for using resources and for care of the land. The monasteries provide guidance by teaching and example for lay Buddhist practitioners. Catholic monastic communities, on the other hand, began forming in the mid-nineteenth century. Most of them had early days of poverty ranging from dire to not-so-bad, and then, from the early to the mid-twentieth century, experienced a period of explosive growth, both in numbers and in material resources. Looking back over the past 150 years of Catholic monastic life in North America, Sister Renée observes that most Catholic monastic communities started out environmentally friendly by necessity, strayed as they became more established and comfortable, and now are trying to act responsibly out of a tight blend of fiscal necessity and good ecological intentions. But they are finding that making ecologically sound decisions and then implementing them is more costly and more complicated than they had imagined.

Following the presentations that were given at Gethsemani III, there are two essays, one by a Buddhist, the other by a Catholic participant in the encounter, that address some of the challenges of living a Green spirituality. In his essay, Ajahn Sona from the Buddhist community at Birken Forest Monastery points out that Buddhism creates a helpful context for environmentalism by providing practices to rid oneself of the self-polluting emotions that sometimes fuel well-meaning environmentalists. Fueled by a healthy, positive, and natural attitude, his community has made a number of decisions concerning its mode of living that have made it a model for a green monasticism of simplicity and sufficiency. Sr. Anne McCarthy of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie reflects on how the prophetic dimension of monasticism can, and indeed must be, expressed by action that responds to both the cry of nature and the cry of the poor. The devastation of our environment hurts us all, but it is those who are already impoverished who suffer the most. By linking their concern for the protection of the environment to compassionate action that alleviates the suffering and recognizes the dignity of the poor of the world—especially those in their own back yards—monastic men and women give powerful witness that, ultimately, it is love that changes everything.

Following the epilogue is an appendix with the English translation of an article by Fabrice Blée entitled “La spiritualité chrétienne du dialogue, creuset d’une nouvelle conscience écologique,” literally, “The Christian Spirituality of Dialogue, Crucible of a new Ecological Consciousness.” It was originally published in the April 2008 issue of La Chair et le Soufle. The author, a Regular Professor on the Faculty of Theology of the University of Saint Paul, Ottawa, where he teaches in the areas of the interreligious dialogue and Christian spirituality, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the history of the North American Commission of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. Drawing on Buddhist and Christian sources in his essay, he makes the case that a Christian spirituality of dialogue favors the adoption of a new way of thinking about nature and of entering into a faith-inspired relationship with it. It provides a fitting conclusion to this collection of essays by Buddhist and Christian monks who hope the way of life they have received from their forebears may offer guidance and inspiration to all who are dedicated to saving a world that is teetering on the brink of disaster.

Guidance and inspiration are the key words here. Gethsemani III was an encounter on monastic practice and monastic spirituality in relation to the current ecological crisis. Rather than intentionally setting out to come up with specific proposals to solve the crisis caused by global warming, the destruction of species, and the poisoning of our land and water, the Buddhist and Christian monks who came together at the home of Thomas Merton wanted to arrive at a deeper understanding of the connections between the way of life they had committed themselves to and the environment in which they live it out. They came to Gethsemani believing that monastic teachings and traditions continue to offer a valuable guide for living at peace with one another and with all beings. Their hope is that by dedicating themselves to their monastic calling with renewed generosity and greater focus on the environmental crisis, they will model a way of life that will be attractive and compelling to those who are not monks in the formal sense of the word, and that the world will be a healthier place for it.

William Skudlarek OSB

"Parliament of the World’s Religions" / Declaration Toward a Global Ethic in PDF - Click Here


Tuesday, May 27, 7:00 PM


Opening Session

The Destructive Effects of Modern Technology
On the Environment and Society
As Seen by Thomas Merton

#1 / MP3 / 10 mb / 47 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 64 kb / Click Here

Father Ezekiel Lotz OSB
Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, Oregon


Wednesday, May 28, 8:30-11:15 AM


The world in which we live
What Is Science Telling Us Today

#2 / Part 1 / MP3 / 12 mb / 53 min / Click Here

#2 / Part 2 / MP3 / 18 mb / 1 hr 19 min / Click Here

*Dr. Stephanie Kaza's - "Power Point Presentation in PDF" / 6.1 mb / Click Here

Dr. Stephanie Kaza
University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont


Wednesday, May 28, 2:30-5:15 PM


Buddhist and Christian understandings
of the world and our place in it: religious vision and ethical
choices Interrelatedness, Interdependence, Dependent Origination

#3 / MP3 / 5 mb / 23 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 24 kb / Click Here

Ajahn Punnadhammo
Arrow River Hermitage, Thunder Bay, Ontario


The World as Created, Fallen, and Redeemed

#4 / MP3 / 8 mb / 35 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 35 kb / Click Here

Father James Wiseman OSB
Saint Anselm’s Abbey, Washington DC


Thursday, May 29, 8:30-11:15 AM


How monastic rules speak of the world and our life in it:
Bringing new awareness to ancient yet living documents. The Patimokkha/Pratimoksha
(Theravada) and The Ten Major and Forty-eight Subsidiary Bodhisattva Precepts
From the “Net of Brahma” Sutra (Mahayana)

#5 / MP3 / 10 mb / 45 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 56 kb / Click Here

Rev. Heng Sure
Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, Berkeley, California


The Rule of Benedict

# 6 / MP3 / 5 mb / 22 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 19 kb / Click Here

Sister Judith Sutera OSB
Mount Saint Scholastica Monastery, Atchison, Kansas


Thursday, May 29, 2:30-5:15 PM


Monasticism vis-à-vis the consumer society:
The Monastic Instinct to Revere, to Conserve,
To Be Content with Little, and to Share

#7 / MP3 / 9 mb / 41 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 29 kb / Click Here

Rev. Eko Little
Shasta Abbey, Mount Shasta, California


Simplicity of Life

# 8 / MP3 / 8 mb / 37 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 29 kb / Click Here

Father Charles Cummings, OCSO
Holy Trinity Monastery, Huntsville, Utah


Friday, May 30, 8:30-11:15 AM


Bad Practices Hidden or Justified by Ideology

#9 / MP3 / 11 mb / 50 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 57 kb / Click Here

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni
Dhammadharini Vihara, Freemont, California


Bad Practices Hidden or Justified by Ideology

#10 / MP3 / 6 mb / 25 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 19 kb / Click Here

Father Hugh Feiss OSB
Monastery of the Ascension, Jerome, Idaho


The environmental practices of American monastic
communities... Good Practices, Ancient and Emerging

#11 / MP3 / 10 mb / 44 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 19 kb / Click Here

Ven. Thubten Semkye
Sravasti Abbey, Newport, Washington


The environmental practices of American monastic
communities... Good Practices, Ancient and Emerging

#12 / MP3 / 6 mb / 26 min / Click Here

Conference Paper in PDF / 23 kb / Click Here

Sister Renée Branigan OSB
Sacred Heart Monastery, Richardton, North Dakota


Friday, May 30, 2:30-5:15 PM


Monasticism for the good of the earth
Buddhists and Catholics speaking with one voice
Preparation of a written statement of understanding and commitment

Conference Statement in PDF / 53 kb / Click Here


Saturday, May 31


Closing Ceremony and Monastic Statement




Gethsemani 3 - Participants


Sister Joan Therese Anderson OSB / Catholic
Lives at her community’s monastery in Tucson, Arizona.  She has been involved in East/West dialogue for twenty years.  She attended the first Gethsemani Encounter as an observer and was moved by the attentiveness, gentleness and respect with which all beliefs were received.
Dr. Bettina Bäumer / Catholic
Has a PhD in Philosophy, an Honorary Doctorate in Theology, and is a Professor of Religious Studies. She has been living and working in Varanasi, India, since 1967, and has been teaching in the Universities of Banaras, Vienna, Berne and Salzburg. Her special fields of research and publication are Sanskrit, Indian philosophy and spirituality, Indian temple art, and interreligious dialogue. She was a disciple of Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux OSB) and was President of the Abhishiktananda Society (Delhi) for nineteen years. She has published a number of books on Indian spirituality and art. For the last twenty-two years she has been deeply involved in the spiritual tradition of Kashmir Shaivism and has translated some of its basic texts from Sanskrit. She has also been guiding meditation retreats on these spiritualities for the last sixteen years. Participating in Gethsemani III in the company of such a wonderful group of spiritual people from the two religions is a great honor and joy. For me it is a pilgrimage to Thomas Merton and a way of establishing direct contact with the members of MID, who invited me to be an advisor to their board. The theme of ecology is very dear to my heart and belongs to what Raimon Panikkar calls the cosmotheandric understanding of Reality. Unless the leaders of the religions can give an example of a spirituality that respects and loves the Earth and Nature, we cannot expect politicians to solve the problem. And it is in this area where a dialogue between religions is both possible and necessary.

Father David Bock OCSO / Catholic
Entered monastic life in 1962 at the Abbey of New Melleray in Peosta, Iowa. He has been a board member of MID for the past six years.  He is currently engaged as cook, librarian, and teacher of monks in monastic formation and training.

Sister Renée Branigan OSB / Catholic
Has been a member of Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton, North Dakota, since 1964.  Her degrees in communication and spirituality prepared her for ministries of teaching in high school, the university, and monastic formation, as well as for editing publications for her community, participating in the American Benedictine Academy, and being editorial assistant for The American Benedictine Review.  As a child of a military family (Air Force), she came to the monastery knowing there was a vast, wonderful world out there.  She recounts that at the age of ten or eleven, her father asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She told him she wanted most to study how people of different faiths came to know God.  That fascination has never waned.  She came to the monastery to seek God, and her life as a monastic has whetted her appetite to find God in more vast and varied venues.

Brother Dominic Cason OSB / Catholic
Grew up in thirteen foster homes until he dropped out of high school and entered the service, doing three tours in Vietnam. On returning he worked for many years as a field tester for outdoor equipment. When he could do this no longer because of knee problems he went into retail management before entering monastic life at Saint Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas. There he started the college’s ceramics program and now directs the Abbey Art Gallery. His long involvement in environmental issues once got him into legal trouble. He took part in hanging a banner—written in Japanese and Russian—on the Sears Tower in Chicago calling for an end to the killing of whales.

Sister Catherine Cleary OSB / Catholic
Is a member of Saint Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Illinois, where she is on the retreat house staff serving as a spiritual director and retreat presenter. She initiated a Women’s Muslim/Christian Dialogue that has led to interest and friendship among Muslim and Christian women in the area. In May her monastery will host a Cambodian Buddhist monk who will teach posture and breathing techniques and meditation to the monastic community. He will also speak about his monastery’s school for orphaned children and its housing and rehabilitation of women victimized by trafficking. Her community will host the 2008 Buddhist/Benedictine Sisters dialogue.

Father James Conner OCSO / Catholic
Is a monk at Gethsemani Abbey and was for many years the editor of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin. He has spoken and written widely on Merton, with whom he worked as Assistant Novice Master in the 1960s.

Father Charles Cummings, OCSO / Catholic
Has been a monk of Holy Trinity Abbey in Utah since 1960.  He currently serves as vocation director and novice director and helps make flavored creamed honey.  He is the author of "Eco-Spirituality: Toward a Reverent Life" (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1991, ISBN 0-8091-3251-6, out of print).

Rev. Thich Hang Dat / Buddhist
Came to the United States as a teenager in the 1980s. In 1990 he graduated from Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After that he moved to Ukiah, California, where he earned a master’s degree in Buddhist studies from Dharma Realm Buddhist University and became a monk. He established the Ten Thousand Buddhas Summit Monastery (TTBSM) near Corydon, Indiana, on October, 2001. The monastery is an organization of Buddhist monks, nuns, and laity who place emphasis on practicing Buddhist Mindfulness, Loving-Kindness, Broadmindedness, and Skillfulness, which are beneficial to family, community, and society. He has taught Buddhism classes at four schools: the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana University-Southeast in New Albany, and Bellarmine University and the University of Louisville’s Shelby Campus, both in Louisville, Kentucky.

Dr. Ron Epstein / Buddhist
Is a scholar-practitioner affiliated with Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Ukiah, California. He previously taught Buddhism and comparative religion at the University of California at Davis and at San Francisco State University, where he also developed classes in environmental ethics. As a founding member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society, he has translated both Buddhist sutras and exegetical works. He has written on a wide range of Buddhist topics. Among his publications on environmental topics are “Environmental Issues: A Buddhist Perspective,” “Genetic Engineering: A Buddhist Assessment,” and “Redesigning the World: Ethical Questions about Genetic Engineering.” He was also co-sponsor of the first county-wide legislation in the United States that bans the growing and raising of genetically engineered plants and animals. For the past six years he has been a participant in the annual Northern California Chan, Zen, Catholic Dialogue Group retreats, which are co-sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Father Hugh Bernard Feiss OSB / Catholic
Is a monk at the Monastery of the Ascension in Jerome, Idaho. Having earned licentiates in theology and philosophy at The Catholic University of America and a doctorate in theology from the Anselmianum in Rome, he taught theology at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon for thirty years, including a course on “Theology and Ecology.” He contributed to the Bishops’ Pastoral on the Columbia River.

Bhikshuni Heng Jen / Buddhist
Is a disciple of Master Hsuan Hua, has been a fully-ordained nun in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition for eighteen years. While residing at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Northern California, she served as an instructor for Developing Virtue Girls and Boys high school and as a member of the Sangha faculty of Dharma Realm Buddhist University. Currently resident at Gold Buddha Monastery in Vancouver, Canada, she continues her decades of active participation in the Buddhist Text Translation Society, serving as a reviewer of Chinese transcripts, a translator from Chinese to English, and a certifier of English translations. Heng Jen Shi is a proficient Cantor of classical Buddhist rituals and a lively speaker of Dharma. 

Jason Kaas / Catholic
Graduated this year from Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, with a major in Peace Studies and minors in environmental studies and philosophy.  His major areas of research have included Native American spirituality and the Jain tradition.

Rev. Chandana Karuna / Buddhist
Is a Dharma teacher at the International Buddhist Meditation Center and a member of its residential program for monastics, clerics and laypeople in Los Angeles. She is committed to interfaith/intra-Buddhist dialogue, with a special interest in peacemaking/peacekeeping.

Dr. Stephanie Kaza / Buddhist
Is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont, serving the Environmental Program with an appointment through the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. She teaches and advises undergraduate and graduate students with a concentration in the environmental humanities. Her courses include: Religion and Ecology, Ecofeminism, Unlearning Consumerism, and Introduction to Environmental Studies. Dr. Kaza’s interdisciplinary approach is reflected in her academic training: Ph.D. in Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz; M.A. in Education, Stanford University; M.Div., Starr King School for the Ministry; and B.A. in Biology, Oberlin College. As co-chair of the UMV Environmental Council, Professor Kaza has been actively engaged in campus sustainability initiatives to reduce waste, conserve energy, and promote environmental values. Dr. Kaza is currently President of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies and is an active member of the Religion and Ecology group of the American Academy of Religion. She is the author of numerous articles on Buddhist environmental thought as well as The Attentive Heart: Conversations with Trees, meditative essays on deep ecological relations with trees, and co-editor (with Kenneth Kraft) of, "Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism." Her latest book is an edited collection on Buddhism and consumerism entitled, "Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume." She writes a regular ecology column for Turning Wheel, journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Rev. Kusala Bhikshu / Buddhist
Lives and works at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in the Korea town section of Los Angeles. He cares for the Center’s animals leads a weekly discussion group and a twice weekly meditation group. He continues to give presentations at local high schools, colleges, and churches on basic Buddhism and social action. Kusala is the web-master of his own site: He is Buddhist Chaplain for the University Religious Conference at UCLA and director of the University Buddhist Association at UCLA with an on-campus Buddhist Club that meets weekly at the UCLA Catholic Center.
Rev. Eko Little / Buddhist
Is the abbot of Shasta Abbey, a monastery of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, home to approximately twenty-eight male and female monastics. The monastery is located in the Siskiyou National Forest, a beautiful place if there ever was one.

Father Ezekiel Lotz OSB / Catholic
Is a member of Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, Oregon. He earned a D.Phil. degree from the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University in 2005 and teaches at Mount Angel Seminary.

Sister Anne McCarthy OSB / Catholic
Is a member of Mount Saint Benedict Monastery in Erie, Pennsylvania, and is on staff at Benetvision: resources for contemporary spirituality. She lives at Mary the Apostle, a new Catholic Worker house in inner-city Erie, chairs the local peace coalition, and gives retreats on nonviolence and monasticism. She has served in national leadership with Pax Christi USA and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Sister Hélène Mercier OSB / Catholic
Is a member of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, Saint Joseph, Minnesota, where she is Director of Oblates. Sister Hélène began her monastic life at the Benedictine Priory of Montreal, founded by Dom John Main.
Father Markus Muff OSB / Catholic
Is a monk of Engelberg, a Benedictine monastery in Switzerland. His university studies at the Hochschule Sankt Gallen, Switzerland, were in economics and business administration. In preparation for ordination to the priesthood he studied philosophy and theology at Einsiedeln, another Benedictine monastery in Switzerland, at the international Benedictine House of Studies (Sant’Anselmo) in Rome, and at the University of Lucerne. He taught English in the high school at Engelberg and was Business Manager of the monastery for sixteen years. He served as spiritual director for Catholic seminary students in Lucerne for three years and now is in Rome as Director of Development for Europe at Sant’Anselmo. He is a member of about ten different international foundations—including the Rotary Club Roma Appia Antica—that support culture, education, monasteries, interreligious dialogue, and social welfare.

Jerome Naduvathanyil OSB / Catholic
Is a monk of the monastery of Asirvanam in Bangalore and served as secretary to Benedictine Interreligious Dialogue (BID) in India. He is beginning a three-year appointment to serve as a parish priest in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Lama Norbu / Buddhist
Began his study of the Dharma in the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and was ordained in Sera Mey Monastery in 1987. During his fourteen years of monastic studies, he was blessed to study with teachers such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Ven. Khen Sur Rinpoche Ngawang Teecho, Ven. Dhakpa Tulku Rinpoche, and Ven. Geshe Danche Zunpo. After he passed his Geshe Degree in 1997, he traveled to Singapore and Taiwan. In 1998, he accompanied the abbot of Sera Mey University, Ven. Khen Sur Rinpoche Ngawang Teecho, and became his Tibetan-Chinese Dharma translator in Taiwan. Soon he was invited by the Chinese Buddhist Association to be the resident teacher in Taiwan, where he stayed for three years. Ven. Norbu Lama then came to the United States to explore the world, meet people from diverse backgrounds, and teach the essence of Buddha Dharma, which transcends culture and ideology. He is currently teaching Buddhism and living in Phoenix Arizona as the spiritual director of Bodhiheart.

Father Michael Peterson OSB  / Catholic
Has been a member of Blue Cloud Abbey in rural South Dakota for twelve years.  He is the director of the Retreat Program and also the abbey’s choir director and organist.  He is deeply rooted in the land through his vow of stability.

Brother Daniel Pont OSB / Catholic
Is a monk of the Abbaye d’En Calcat in south of France and serves as European Coordinator for Dialogue Monastique Interreligieux/Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. He attended a Kumbha Mela in India when he was eighteen and spent seven years in Jerusalem in a Byzantine rite monastery. Several trips in Asia across Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim countries rooted him in the need for interreligious dialogue.  He is the director of the ecological commission in his monastery. In partnership with WWF (World Wildlife Fund), he compared the ecological print of his monastery with that of a French Buddhist monastery. The forest of his monastery has been devastated by the mountain pine-beetle infestation, a result of the 2003 drought. All the monks less then sixty years old are working once a month to replant a new forest. A new wood power boiler is about to be built. He is the monastery’s bee keeper and works in its zither workshop.

Ajahn Punnadhammo / Buddhist
Is a Theravada monk ordained in Thailand in 1992. He is currently the abbot of the Arrow River Forest Hermitage near Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Brother Aaron Raverty OSB / Catholic
Is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, project editor at Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, and a cultural anthropologist. He is serving his second term on the MID Board of Directors, and also serves as the book review editor for the MID Bulletin.

Thubten Semkye / Buddhist
Has been practicing Buddhism since 1997. She met her teacher Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, Washington where Venerable Chodron was spiritual director. While a member of Dharma Friendship Foundation she organized teacher’s visits and lead meditation classes as well as attended retreats lead by her teacher. A lay practitioner at the time, Venerable Semkye studied horticulture and was a master gardener for the Seattle area. In 2004 she relocated to Newport, Washington shortly after Venerable Chodron founded Sravasti Abbey. Ordained in 2007, Semkye facilitates volunteer activities at the Abbey and is responsible for the perennial gardens and grounds. She also heads the implementation of the Forest Stewardship plan for the Abbey’s 240 acres of forest and meadows.

Abbot Mark Serna OSB / Catholic
Is a priest and monk from Portsmouth Abbey, Rhode Island. He entered the monastery in 1979 and served as the monastery’s Abbot from 1991 to 2005 and Headmaster of the Portsmouth Abbey School from 1995 to 2000. Over the years he has led many retreats and has had experience as a Spiritual Director. He is actively engaged in interreligious dialogue and is the President/Chairman of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue.

Father William Skudlarek OSB / Catholic
Is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, where his most recent work was as Administrative Assistant to the Abbot. In addition to having taught theology and homiletics at Saint John’s University, he served as a Maryknoll Associate in Brazil, where he lived with a small lay monastic community and assisted the pastor of a rural parish for five years. He was also a member of Saint John’s Abbey’s priory in Japan for seven years. During his time in Japan he began to practice zazen with the Sanbyō Kyōdan. After serving for five years as President and then Executive Director of the North American branch of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, he was appointed General Secretary of Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique/Monastic Interreligious Dialogue in November 2007 and will move to Rome in August 2008 to promote and coordinate monastic interreligious dialogue worldwide.

Sister Sarah Smedman OSB / Catholic
Of Saint Scholastica Monastery, Duluth, Minnesota, is a retired professor of English. Currently she is Director of Continuing Education and Life Development and is a member of the Administrative Staff at the Monastery. She serves on the Monastery Council and on the Boards of Trustees of Saint Mary’s Medical Center/Saint Mary’s Hospital Superior, Wisconsin, of Saint Mary’s—Duluth Clinic, and of the College of Saint Scholastica, where she is also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Interreligious Forum and of the Braegelman Catholic Studies Program.

Sister Katherine Ann Smolik OSB / Catholic
Has been a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of Clyde, Missouri, since 1994. She lived at their Osage Monastery, a Catholic ashram in Oklahoma, for two years and attended Nuns in the West II, held at the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. She has been a member of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Board for three years and is currently coordinating Nuns in the West III to be held this year at Saint Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois, on Labor Day weekend.

Ajahn Sona / Buddhist
Is a fully ordained Theravada monk of nineteen years seniority. He is the abbot of Birken Forest Monastery in British Columbia, Canada. He has trained in the Thai forest tradition in Thailand and also with Ven. Gunaratana in the Sri Lankan forest tradition. Ven. Sona’s lay background has been deeply involved in Western cultural studies of classical music and Western philosophy.

Ajahn Sudanto / Buddhist
Became interested in Buddhism and Indian spiritual traditions while completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Oregon. After graduation he set off for an open-ended period of travel and spiritual seeking in India and Southeast Asia. After a year of traveling, he proceeded to Thailand to begin a period of intensive study and meditation, which drew him to Wat Pah Nanachat in the Northeast of Thailand. There he met Ajahn Pasanno (then the abbot) and requested to ordain and train with the resident community, taking full ordination as a bhikkhu in 1994. After training for five years at Wat Pah Nanachat and various branch monasteries in the Ajahn Chah tradition, he came to Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, California, to live and train with the emerging sangha in America.

Rev. Heng Sure / Buddhist
Has been ordained for thirty-two years in the Chinese Mahayana Tradition and is Abbot of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. He has been a "pilgrim," a translator, a lecturer on sutras, a musician, and an interpreter of the Buddha’s Dharma for Westerners and more often these days, for Asians raised either in the West, who meet Buddhism in the United States, or for Chinese raised in a secular state without access to religion or spirituality in any form.

As a practitioner and scholar he is deeply interested in Interfaith and Intrafaith Dialogue; what we do in these first years of the Dharma’s advent in the West, in particular what we can learn from our Interfaith neighbors will determine how the Buddha’s teaching will take root, adapt and grow in the West.

Sister Judith Sutera OSB / Catholic
Is a member of the monastery of Mount Saint Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas. She is editor of Magistra, a biannual journal that features translations of sources and original research in the history of women's spirituality from all religious traditions, and editor in chief of, The American Monastic Newsletter a national news channel for American Benedictines and Cistercians sponsored by the American Benedictine Academy. She is also a charter member of the steering committee of the Conference on the History of Women Religious.

Bhikshuni Heng Syun / Buddhist
Entered the Sangha in 1990 in Taiwan and received full ordination thirteen years ago.. She has served as a monastic administrator and manager of Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, Gold Wheel Monastery in Los Angeles, Long Beach Monastery in Long Beach, Gold Summit Monastery in Seattle, and is currently manager of Avatamsaka Monastery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She has lectured on precepts to novice nuns during several of the intensive 108-day training periods leading to full ordination. She is an experienced speaker of Dharma and is qualified to lecture on Mahayana Sutras, following the oral traditions of the late Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. She enjoys sharing thoughts and talks with members of her Wednesday night meditation group. 

Bhikkhuni Tathaaloka / Buddhist
Is the founding Abbess of Dhammadharini Vihara, a women’s monastic retreat residence in Fremont, California. She is an American-born member of the Buddhist Women’s Monastic Sangha with a background in Zen and Theravadan Buddhism. She began monastic life in 1990 and was granted Higher Ordination by an ecumenical gathering of the Bhikkhu & Bhikkhuni Sanghas under the late Bhante Ratanansara in Los Angeles in early 1997.

Dr. Victoria Urubshurow / Buddhist
Has been a practicing Buddhist since 1975. She was a student of the late Geshe Wangyal at the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, New Jersey, where she lived for extended periods of time. She earned a doctorate degree from the Committee on the History of Culture at the University of Chicago (1984), and has taught college courses on Buddhism, Asian Religions, World Religions, World Mythology, and Comparative Spirituality for two decades. Presently she is a Collegiate Associate Professor of Humanities at the University of Maryland University College. Her recent publications include, "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Life of Buddha" (Penguin Group 2007), and "Introducing World Religions" (Routledge and JBE Online Books 2008).

Sister Mary David Walgenbach OSB / Catholic
Is prioress of Benedictine Women of Madison, a newly established ecumenical community at Holy Wisdom Monastery, Madison, Wisconsin. Along with the community’s ecumenical work, an environmental initiative begun in 1995 has resulted in restoring farm land to natural prairie, participating in the Mendota Watershed Project, and restoring an oaks savanna. We collaborate with many environmental and ecumenical groups to further our mission. The community is in the process of building a LEED platinum monastery which will be completed in June 2009.

Father James Wiseman OSB / Catholic
Is a monk of Saint Anselm’s Abbey in Washington DC and a professor of theology at The Catholic University of America.  He is a former chair of MID and has been editing its online Bulletin since 1998.  His most recent book is, "Spirituality and Mysticism: A Global View" (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006), and his article on Thomas Merton and Theravada Buddhism appeared in Merton and Buddhism, edited by Bonnie Thurston (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2007). 





Gethsemani I || Gethsemani 2 || Abbey of Gethsemani || Photos 1 || Photos 2 || Photos 3

Gethsemani 3 Group Photos - Large Size - Photo 1 | Photo 2


- Monasticism and the Environment Statements - Video 10 Min

Gethsemani 3 was organized and funded by the MID. The Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID) is an organization of Benedictine and Trappist monks and nuns committed to fostering interreligious and intermonastic dialogue at the level of spiritual practice and experience between North American Catholic monastic women and men and contemplative practitioners of diverse religious traditions.

The Abbey of Gethsemani - Trappist, Kentucky USA

___ ___ ___

Web Master ///
Copyright © 2008, 2009, 2010
, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015,2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022
___ ___